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Speaking of Faith: Ubuntu

Posted by Kathryn Eident  July 24, 2009 09:15 AM

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Ubuntu is the key to world peace

And there is no hate.

But there is love and respect

Ubuntu I cannot hate.
I cannot be jealous.
 I cannot show envy

But I can show a lot of love.

Ubuntu is nothing other than respect.

Like 2 birds in love.
All love.

No hate…at no rate

Ubuntu is something cool.

So let’s share it all around.

Ubuntu is a person.
I and the people we are.

It is a strong word.
It is what we are.

We have Ubuntu but the important thing is if our neighborhood has it too.
Ubuntu can pick us up when we fall.

So we should bring it through the universe.
That’s all!

(by St Stephen’s Youth Leadership Corps)

The learning how to live this concept in a large and diverse group of children, young people and adults is the joy and blessing of my summer this year.

My name is Heidi Fieldston. I am a Priest Associate at Christ Church in Needham, but I am generally elsewhere on Sunday mornings because my ministry is covering clergy absences in other parishes in the Diocese (Eastern Massachusetts), especially when clergy are on sabbatical. I am currently serving as "Sabbatical Vicar" at St. Stephen's located on Shawmut Avenue in the South End of Boston. It is a wonderfully diverse congregation with joyful worship in English and Spanish each Sunday. The rest of the week, the atmosphere in the building is equally diverse and (generally) joyous as the sponsoring location and one of 6 sites for the B-SAFE program for children and youth. This is an amazing program and I'd like to tell you about it.

The B-SAFE (Bishops' Summer Academic Fun Enrichment) program began five years ago at St. Stephen's with 30 children participating. The program now flourishes in six sites in Boston and Chelsea and involves over 440 city children and youth as campers and more than 100 teens as paid staff assisting the counselors and serving as mentors to the children and youth. In addition, more than 30 Episcopal parishes in the suburbs and the city (including Christ Episcopal Church here in Needham) serve as very active partner churches, providing not only monetary support but also a strong ministry of presence, companionship, lunch and weekly field trips.

I spend my days at church in the midst of 120 children and young people whose time is spent in structured learning, discussion, reading, art and music and play (the basketball court is right outside my door and the sprinklers are down the street). Downstairs are a library and tech center where the kids get tech savvy by designing projects on a battery of computers. The program is geared to helping them develop as strong, thoughtful, responsible individuals. It's clear the program works because the teen mentors, many of whom have come up through the program themselves, exemplify these characteristics.

The poem with which I opened this entry refers to a central concept of the program this year, "Ubuntu", a theological concept promoted by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and adopted by The Episcopal Church for the theme of its 73rd General Convention this summer. Ubuntu has a range of definitions: I am because we are; I in you and you in me; what heals you heals me and what harms you harms me. It is a word and an idea that helps us think about our connections to each other and to our community.

How this plays out in daily life and this program is expressed in an early entry from the B-SAFE blog “The partnerships between B-SAFE and more than fifty Episcopal churches in the Diocese of Massachusetts is one example of Ubuntu lived out. Congregations choose a program week and a B-SAFE site and organize teams of volunteers to provide lunches to everyone at the site, read books during DEAR time (Drop Everything And Read), and plan a full-day field trip for Friday. Lasagnas and sandwiches results in kids chanting “we will, we will thank you” (to the tune of Queen’s “We Will Rock You”). Sharing books with youth creates greater confidence for and love of reading, which research shows returns students to school in the fall more prepared for learning. Field trips on Fridays bring youth to places they may never have visited to have experiences they may never have imagined, such as walking the grounds of a sanctuary for rescued wolves or eating garlic fresh from the ground.

“But Ubuntu and the partnerships are more than this. Relationships are built during even the briefest reading pairs or shared meal. Children connect with a caring adult and learn how to sound out another word. Adults come to know a Boston child, hear his or her stories, and may find they understand the complexities of urban public education in a more concrete way. Everyone is fed, literally and figuratively.

“These partnerships are efforts and opportunities to bridge the gaps between adult and youth, urban and suburban, between people of different races and economic classes. It is only with these connections that we can find solutions—healing—for some of the most entrenched urban challenges, such providing quality public education or ending gun violence.”


To read more on the B-Safe blog, visit:

Heidi Fieldston is a priest associate at Christ Church in Needham. Each week, a different member from Needham's diverse religious community contributes a column as part of the series, "Speaking of Faith."

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